There is hope for patients with chronic neck and back pain; thanks to an innovative procedure. Unfortunately, back pain will affect 80% of all adults at some point in their lives. While most back pain is temporary and lasts only a couple of weeks or months; some people experience chronic symptoms which can linger for years. A few local specialists have been utilizing a promising treatment for these patients. It is called Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) and attacks the pain at its source, the nerve. By doing this, the “pain messages” cannot be transmitted to the brain.
Chronic back, neck, or joint pain can be debilitating for simple activities like: carrying groceries, walking the dog, sleeping through the night, golf, tennis, softball, basketball, volleyball, skiing, bowling, hiking, kayaking, biking, gardening, traveling, construction work, flooring, etc. RFA can help patients resume and enjoy these activities again. For example, when a golf pro suffers from back and/or neck pain, it negatively affects their ability to swing normally which causes them to lose power, distance and accuracy. Losing their ability to swing normally will hinder or can even end their career. RFA allows golf pros to resume their normal, pain free swing, return to the top of their game, and lengthen their career.
Unlike a sudden injury, there often appears to be no obvious reason for this pain. Whereas, normal back pain is caused by an acute injury, such as a muscle pull; chronic back pain has elements of arthritis and usually worsens with activity or even weather changes. In fact, RFA has been especially helpful to those who suffer from facet arthritis; a condition which affects the majority of adults over the age of 50.
Frequently, this pain is related to the facet joints in the back of the spine. When these facet joints are affected, pain messages from the facet joints travel along sensory nerves, called the medial branches, to the spinal cord. Once they have reached the spinal cord, the brain is notified that there is an injury and receives the sensation of pain. The injury may involve the cartilage (slippery covering of the ends of bones), the capsule, or the ligaments that surround the joint and connect it to the other areas of the spine. Additionally, through a natural “reflex action”, muscle spasms can occur as a reaction to the joint’s injury and/or pain. The location of the pain is directly related to which facet joint is experiencing the injury.
If these joints are suspected as the origin of the symptoms, a simple test called a medial branch block can be performed to help confirm the diagnosis. The physician will temporarily block the nerves that supply these joints; resulting in pain relief. While this reprieve doesn’t last long, it does prove that blocking the pain messages is an effective treatment for their patient.
Radiofrequency Ablation is a minimally invasive, office-based procedure which consists of placing special needles into the same location as the medial branch block and then inserting a radio-frequency probe into the needle to cauterize or ‘bum’ the nerve. Since these nerves are the ones that carry the sensations to the brain, cauterizing them will stop the perception of pain. RFA can alleviate symptoms for between six months to two years and may be repeated.
Many seniors have found that Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) has given them the ability to, once again, enjoy activities such as golf, tennis, kayaking, etc. For these patients, treatment has been absolutely life changing.
Pain specialists are always searching for effective treatments which provide significant relief to their patients. Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) offers a long-lasting solution that has been proven in both test studies and real world applications. It is becoming more widely used by physicians across the country. Great strides have been made in the treatment of pain over the last several years. As technology continues to advance, the outlook for chronic back pain sufferers looks brighter than ever.